The next installment of The Dagger’s Q & A with candidates for the Harford County Board of Education features the candidates in District E, which includes Aberdeen, Churchville and Fountain Green.
Among the four candidates who filed to run in District E, Stephen Macko has since told The Dagger that he is no longer running. Remaining in the race are incumbent school board member Art Kaff, and challengers Rachel Gauthier and Barney Michel. Their answers to The Dagger’s three questions appear below.
Dagger: School board members often make decisions in areas where they may not have expertise, such as curriculum, facilities or the budget. Briefly describe the experience/skills you would bring to the school board and how you make decisions in areas outside your expertise.
Kaff: “Brief Biography: I am an employee of the Federal Government. I am also a Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve, and I have been recently selected for promotion to Colonel. My wife Cheryl and I are the parents of three children. Two of my children currently attend Harford County Public Schools, and one graduated last year.
I have served for over one year on the Harford County Board of Education and have already become familiar with several educational subject areas, including Common Core and PARCC assessments, special education, intervention, school policies, facilities, and our budget process. At this critical time of likely bare bones funding and the possibility of several new board members, I bring valuable and much needed experience to the board. My military experience as an Army officer has also taught me to be an effective leader and to bring a careful and deliberative approach when making decisions as a board member. At all times, I strive to protect the interests of all children in Harford County Public Schools. In addition, I am a parent with children attending Harford County Public Schools; therefore, I have always approached the board position as a key stakeholder. I also strive to seek input from many people before making decisions. I discuss matters with other board members, and I also seek input from the public. For example, I have attended PTA and PTO meetings in District E and have spoken with leaders in the City of Aberdeen in order to obtain their input.”
Gauthier: “I believe that there are several strengths I would bring to the role of school board member for HCPS. The first is that I have experience as an educator. I have been a school counselor in another school system for more than 13 years. I have been fortunate in my career to have worked with several amazing educators, parents, and administrators. I have been able to see a wide variety of curriculum, have seen in person what an impact budget cuts make in a building, and how problems with the physical facilities of a school can impact student learning. While I don’t proclaim myself to be an expert in any of these things, I know enough to know that sometimes you need to call in the experts, do investigations, and figure out how to address issues and concerns in an expedient and appropriate manner. Much as I would not attempt to do electrical work myself, I am not afraid to call upon experts to find out their opinions and suggestions on how to deal with whatever topics I don’t feel equipped to attack without more knowledge. In addition, I have the extra advantage of being married to a teacher, and being from a family of educators. I have two children, both of whom will be attending Prospect Mill Elementary in the Fall, so I have a vested interest in the school system not only succeeding from where they are currently, but improving to help meet the needs of our students so that they are prepared to meet the needs of a digital society. In short, what I bring to the table is this: I am a mom and an educator.”
Michel: “My bio is attached for your information. I have over 35 years of combined public/private sector experience, developing and executing both administrative and technical programs. While my educational background is focused on public administration and systems analysis, I have successfully led high technology Research and Development teams-most recently developing a new method for detection of trace amounts of explosives on surfaces. I did this by seeking out the best technical experts in each field and then listening to them. I plan to bring the same approach to working with our school board.
I have been an advocate for education for over 25 years, serving on Parent Advisory Committees for Hickory E.S., Southhampton M.S., and CMW H.S. I presently serve on the Education Committees of the Army Alliance, Inc., and the Northeastern Maryland Technology Council. I am a member of the Northeast Maryland Higher Education Advisory Board and the STEM Forum STEM and Beyond Nights. One of the things that all of these activities have taught me is that no single individual has all the answers. The success of these activities has come through the collaborative efforts of a team, bringing a variety of perspectives, expertise and ideas to each activity and situation.
BERNARD J. (BARNEY) MICHEL
Mr. Michel is an independent defense industry consultant. He is an active board member and Past President of the Army Alliance, Inc. and a charter member of the Northeast Maryland Higher Education Advisory Board. He serves on the Northeastern Maryland University Research Park, Inc. Board; serves as Secretary of the Northeastern Maryland Technology Council (NMTC) Board of Directors; is a member and past president of the Susquehanna Workforce Network, Inc. (SWN) board and Chairs the SWN Youth Council. He is also active in the Boy Scouts of America.
In his position as a Principal Business Strategist at Joint Research and Development, Inc. he was in charge of JRAD’s business growth initiatives for opportunities at APG emerging as a result of the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) activities. Prior to joining JRAD he managed Technology Integration Support Programs and corporate Independent Research and Development (IR&D) Programs for SAIC. He previously served as the Corporate Resource Manager and Vice-President, Program Management & Integration for EAI Corporation, where he was responsible for Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) programs and analytical laboratory activities in support of the US Army Research, Development and Engineering Command (RDECOM) and the DOD Chemical Weapons Demilitarization Program.
Mr. Michel began his defense career with the US Army Armament Research and Development Command (ARADCOM), later accepting a promotion to the Chemical Research, Development & Engineering Center, as Chief of the Organization and Manpower Division. He served in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense, Atomic Energy (ATSD-AE) during Operation Desert Storm, managing the Chemical Weapons Treaty Verification Research and Development Program.
Mr. Michel has a BS in Government & Politics from the University of Maryland, College Park and earned an MS in Systems Analysis from the Florida Institute of Technology.”
Dagger: Please cite a previous decision by the Harford County Board of Education with which you either strongly agree or disagree, and why.
Kaff: “The Fiscal Year 2015 budget proposal that was approved by the Board of Education in January is an outstanding budget which I fully supported. If fully funded by the county, it will provide for the educational needs of all students in Harford County, and will prepare them for greater success in the future in both higher education and employment opportunities. It also calls for critically important funding for salary and wage increases, which is very much needed at this time if we are to attract and retain teachers and staff. If fully funded, the budget will be a key investment by the county in our future. The budget process this year was based on input from the public and other key stakeholders, through the use of an online budget input tool and various public input sessions. It was a collaborative process which I strongly supported, and will work to continue for the future. I myself attended all the public input sessions, and communicated with PTA and PTO leaders and other key stakeholders, soliciting input as we deliberated over the budget.”
Gauthier: “A previous decision that I strongly disagree with, was the one that determined that 4th tier bussing of students was a good idea. While I understand and appreciate that there are challenges that every school board needs to face, I feel that this particular bussing issue was one that has far reaching implications to the students and the families that were forced into this situation. Clearly, no board members that voted for this measure had children or family members that were affected by it. For years, studies have been done on prime learning time for students at various ages. Overall, the consensus of those studies indicates that the younger the children are, the earlier they should be in school. On the flip side, the older students are, the later in the day their learning time should start. So, elementary students should be the ones getting to school first thing in the morning, and high school students should not start until closer to 10 am. Putting those studies aside, what happened to having an open dialogue with the parents and families that might be affected by this decision?? What happened to transparency in this situation? Again, while I understand that lack of funding from the current county executive has long been an issue, I feel that the board members who voted for this measure, did not exercise due diligence in looking for other places to find the money to cut in the budget. I think this was a thoughtless, kneejerk reaction to a problem, and is indicative of not only the lack of big picture thinkers, but also a loss of touch with the people this most impacted, the kids.”
Michel: “The selection of a local educator [Barbara Canavan] as our new HCPS Superintendant is a very positive step. Ms. Canavan has strong local ties and long experience in HCPS. She is first and foremost an educator. Choosing from within brings many advantages to our schools; established relationships, strong knowledge of both the good and not so good aspects of our schools and a superintendant who is truly dedicated to our children’s education.”
Dagger: Maryland school boards are charged with certain responsibilities. Among them are: Hiring the superintendent, setting capital and operating budget priorities, determining school attendance boundaries, and formulating school policies. Looking ahead, what issues within the board’s purview are of specific interest or concern to you and why? Please cite two issues.
Kaff: “The first issue is full funding for our schools. I wish to make sure Harford County Public Schools are properly funded so that the educational needs of all of our students are addressed, and so that Common Core is successfully implemented. This is especially important for District E, which includes the vitally important City of Aberdeen, and where all schools must be fully funded. We need to ensure our students succeed. Full funding would also be a tremendous investment in the future success of our entire county. I will advocate to the County Government for full funding. I note that one area of critical importance which depends on such funding is intervention, so that students who are struggling are given the opportunity to succeed. In addition, I want to continue to be a strong advocate for the performing arts in our schools, which also relies on such funding.
The second issue is the need to increase teacher and staff salaries. Teachers and staff in Harford County Public Schools have not had a raise for over five years. This is simply unconscionable, as it has a negative impact on the quality of life for our teachers and staff, and their ability to meet their own day to day needs. The current salary situation is not good for the morale of teachers and staff. We have fallen behind many other counties in Maryland, including Baltimore County and Cecil County. The failure to raise salaries in an adequate manner degrades our ability to attract and retain teachers and staff. This need to increase salaries is a subject of vital importance.”
Gauthier: “Issue 1 – Budgeting, both capital and operating are issues that I have a great deal of interest in. All school districts are faced with making more happen with less money. I don’t feel that the current board has met the fiscal challenges in an adequate manner. I think that in order to keep hold of the excellent teachers we have in HCPS, we need to pay them a salary that makes them feel valued. That has not been done in years. In addition, I think that building and opening new schools when buildings that we currently have could address the growing population is a poor choice. Adding on to current buildings could adequately address needs, without having to purchase land, and build more properties that will require more upkeep and maintenance. Budgeting determines building improvements, maintenance, how many adults are in a building, and programs that can be offered in a building. It also has an impact on school safety, which I think is frequently overlooked. I think a new outlook on budgeting issues that again, keeps in mind the students, teachers and staff, is needed.
Issue 2 – In my mind, the second most important thing that affects students after budgeting issues, is policies. Policies encompass everything from attendance, to requirements, to boundaries and special permission, to field trips and building safety. I can’t imagine anything else that has the ability to effect every students day, more so that policies and procedures. I believe that polices need to be re evaluated regularly, in order to be sure that they remain current and relevant, and address the needs of our changing society and student body.”
Michel: “My focus will be operating budget issues and school policy. I am particularly interested in our ability to attract and retain high quality Educators, including those for STEM subjects, and the need for additional technical education opportunities in our schools. Presently we have one Technical High School. Legislation has been proposed to review the possible need for additional Vocation and Technical Education Programs [HB0838]. I support the need for this assessment.”